A regime officially opposed to corruption is prosecuting a prominent investigative journalist with a track record of exposing malfeasance.
The head of Angola’s state-owned oil business has given first briefing since Angolan President João Lourenço fired Isabel dos Santos, daughter of his presidential predecessor, from the helm of Sonangol, Reuters reports:
Lourenço took power in September and is seeking to win credibility with international investors and shed Angola’s image as an opaque oil economy with rampant corruption.
Former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos is one of four African heads of state accused of major financial crimes to resign in the past year, alongside Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and, most recently, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, VOA reports.
But the resilience of corruption has been highlighted by the news that renowned Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais (right) will stand trial in March over an article in which he criticized the country’s Attorney General. He is charged with “outrage to a sovereign body,” considered a crime against state security and an “insult against a public authority,” the BBC reports.
Mr Marques de Morais drew international attention after he was convicted of libel for his 2011 book Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola, which accused several leading military officers of complicity in murder, torture and land grabs in Angola’s lucrative diamond fields.
Rafael, who runs Maka Angola, an anti-corruption and pro-democracy website, has over the years faced numerous criminal and civil proceedings in response to his investigative journalism, notes the American Bar Association, which said “the continuation of the case against Rafael comes as a disappointment.”
Portugal’s Observador newspaper reports that the trial will take place despite appeals from US House Speaker Paul Ryan, who tweeted “#Angola free speech is a basic check on corruption. Drop the prosecution of Rafael Marques de Morais and Mariano Bras Lourenco.” Ryan met Marques de Morais in June 2017 when the National Endowment for Democracy honored him and other anti-corruption activists with its 2017 Democracy Award.
“Despite all the evidence, including detailed information, given to the Interior Minister and the other above-mentioned entities, to date we have not been informed of any investigation,” he said.
José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down as President and João Lourenço was elected to succeed him. There have been encouraging signs that the new administration aims to restore the rule of law. Alarmingly, however, to this day none of the witnesses or family members of the victims has been contacted as part of any investigation. Also, the men identified as the perpetrators of the extrajudicial killings have neither been suspended nor removed from their jobs. Instead, in the Fall of 2017, the killing of young men suspected of gang membership or petty crime, started up again.
“Angola’s leaders, who themselves are accused of grand crimes but have yet to face no consequences, are the same men who have either ordered extrajudicial killings of criminals or – at the very least – turned a blind eye to the murderous interpretation of their exhortations to eliminate crime,” Marques said.
He has also drawn attention to the corruption associated with China’s growing investments in Angola.
As Marques describes in his essay The New Imperialism: China in Angola, “some responsibility for these failings goes to [Angola’s] institutionalized culture of corruption, incompetence, and disregard for public safety.”